There are an estimated 1.2 million Christians in Saudi Arabia. It’s a small percentage (3.5%) of the country’s total population of 34.7 million, the majority of whom are Muslim.
Whether Saudi or expatriate, Christians living in Saudi Arabia – where the official religion and law is Islamic – can expect to encounter severe opposition to their faith.
The few Saudi Christians from a Muslim background face enormous pressure, especially from families. Leaving Islam is one of the biggest sins a Muslim can commit.
Men could face physical and emotional abuse, and public shaming. To get them to recant, material incentives are offered – but refusing could entail death. Meanwhile, women could face a range of consequences, including forced marriage, divorce, sexual abuse and house-arrest. The submissive position of women in Saudi society can make it treacherously difficult to escape. Whether male or female, it is little wonder many believers choose to keep their new faith secret.
Besides being exploited and poorly paid, Asian and African workers are regularly exposed to verbal and physical abuse because of their ethnicity and low status. Being a Christian can exacerbate this. Expatriate Christians are wary of sharing their faith and gathering for fellowship as it could lead to detention and deportation.
Nevertheless, the small number of Saudi Christians has been slowly increasing and they are becoming bolder, sharing their faith with others on the internet and Christian satellite TV channels. Such public action has led to serious repercussions from Saudi families and authorities.
Deciding to give your life to Jesus in Saudi Arabia could break up your family and even result in a one-way ticket out of the country.
Being a thinker, Omar’s introduction to Christianity was through reading books. He then spent time with a Christian family abroad, leading to him giving his life to Jesus. Back home, he shared his faith with his family, but apart from his fiancé, all broke contact with him.
Omar got married and had children, but it was hard. His children were being indoctrinated with Islamic teaching at school, while his wife, still a Muslim, didn’t want to hear about Christ – she feared it’d be too dangerous to become a Christian in Saudi Arabia.
Omar desperately wanted to serve the Saudi church, but there were too many obstacles. And so, with a heavy heart, he took his family to live abroad.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors supports the body of Christ on the Arabian Peninsula through organising prayer, distributing Scripture resources and training believers and pastors.
Lord Jesus, strengthen, protect and guide all converts who boldly follow you under great risk. Provide for them a small network of Christians where they can receive encouragement and discipleship. Use the internet to strengthen and grow the church in Saudi Arabia. May women be given greater equality and freedom in Saudi society. Amen.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.